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Katherine’s Final Exam: The Refreshingly Truthful and Informative Presentation of Autism within Keiko Tobe’s “With the Light: Raising and Autistic Child – Volume 6”

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Keiko Tobe unapologetically presents autism as one valuable point on the spectrum of human experience.  In her graphic text, With the Light: Raising and Autistic Child – Volume 6, Tobe asserts and demonstrates that autism is not a “curable disease” from which someone “suffers,” but a set of characteristics that form how an individual experiences the world.  Tobe also risks the validity of her text as a whole by offering support and information directly to her audience, not just by implying advice through her characters.  Further, this presentation of autism, in some ways atypical, in other ways emotionally truthful, roots this text firmly within the canon of disability studies in that it offers a unique, truthful, life-like gaze into the tensions and epiphanies of a family who is raising an autistic child.

Tobe creates a believable space within this family by offering the same tensions found in the real world: acceptance against rejection, understanding against ignorance, and hope against doubt.  For example, in juxtaposition against her mother-in-law, Sachiko does not try to change Hikaru’s behaviors or ignore them. Instead, Sachiko accepts Hikaru exactly the way he is, and learns to adapt to how Hikaru experiences his world instead of trying to destroy it.  Although Sachiko does occasionally wonder what life would be like if Hikaru did not have autism, this detail of the text only adds to the multi-dimensional reality of the family.  After witnessing how Sachiko and Masato have learned to adapt themselves to Hikaru’s world, the mother-in-law begins to see that Hikaru is not as “far way” as she had assumed.  These tensions are made even more believable as they are selectively resolved or reinforced in both the familial home, as well as the public setting.

On a more raw, functional level, this text even (possibly only in the English translation) offers tips and reassuring notes to parents and families caring for autistic individuals.  In any other text that takes the form of a graphic novel, this bold risk would completely break the “third wall” between the world of the characters, and the reality of the audience.  Interestingly, this detail only serves to add to the richness of this text.  One of these little notes can be seen on page 444, in a footnote, where Tobe directly addresses the reader and offers them more information about how to acquire earmuffs to help autistic individuals concentrate.  Within the genres of graphic novel and manga, it is remarkably rare for the author to purposefully break this “third wall,” and may even be seen as a flaw in some texts if done by accident; but Tobe’s purposefulness adds to the truthful functionality of this text: not only to give emotions and situations to identify with, but to also inform and act as a resource.

The view of autism found within Keiko Tobe’s With the Light is both highly realistic, and inspiringly optimistic, in that every detail of its presentation functions to form a unified text that may serve as a beacon of light within the dark, conflicted halls of autistic studies.  The family dynamics and genuine acceptance found within this text can serve as a guiding light for families of autistic individuals and those studying autistic theory.

Word count:  547

Written by Katherine Sullivan

December 8th, 2010 at 11:28 am

Robert’s Final – Mukhopadyay’s “The Sunset Hour”

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Cognitive Poetry: Mukhopadhyay’s “The Sunset Hour”

We would normally expect the metaphor of the sun as a scrambled egg to be associated with sunrise, dawn, or morning. In “The Sunset Hour,” however, Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadyay unexpectedly associates this with the setting sun. This reversed association – or, at least reversed for most neurotypical readers – strengthens Mukhopadyay’s poetic style. Reading his work, neurotypical readers must visualize and combine normally unrelated images and concepts. For the neurotypical reader, this experience might mirror an autistic person’s experience reading neurotypical literature. In “The Sunset Hour,” as in many of Mukhopadyay’s poems, unexpected metaphors and associations create a uniquely stimulating cognitive poetic experience. Many of our expectations of sunset – comfort, security, and routine – are presented alongside of discomfort, vulnerability, and chaos.

Sunset can be associated with positive concepts of rest or returning home. “The Sunset Hour” partially holds true to this. Two birds sat on the electric wires and were “chatting perhaps about each other’s nests,” (4-5) like humans gossiping about their home life at the end of another long and eventful day. The next line of the poem, however, provides an unanticipated context to this otherwise domestic scene; while the birds chatted, the “light of the sun got scrambled” (6). Scrambling, as discussed earlier, carries connections to breakfast and morning. By inverting this connection, Mukhopadyay provides us with an interesting and logical perspective: eggs can be scrambled at any time of day.

From yet another perspective, however, scrambling is hectic and far from homey. Throughout much of the poem, Mukhopadyay presents several uncomfortable images that contrast with the comforting images of the sunset hours. The “downtown seemed to tremble” and “the streets were…congested” (7-8), highlighting an all too common reality of sunset and the end of the day: after work traffic. This contrasts with the earlier image of cozy domestic avian conversations and reinforces Mukhopadyay’s realistic perspective on this often cliché hour of the day. Reading further, we learn that “the cars, too, seemed scrambled” as their drivers rushed home “as restlessly / as the city veering into purple” (13-15). To get home to cozy conversations about their “nests,” the people must put up with uncomfortable traffic.

Purple appears many times throughout the poem – 4 out of 6 stanzas – and brings with it implications of bruising or shadow. As expected, sunset can be viewed as “darkness” arriving in a literal and figurative way. In this poem, though, purple serves more to convey the pain of a sunset. Returning to the notion of scrambling, we might think that, in response to the sun’s no doubt painful scrambling, the earth turning purple (3) and “the pavement turning purple” (9) function as the sun’s bruises.

Mukhopadyay ends the poem with a return to comforting images. “The street lamps lit up as usual / glowing through the darkness,” (16-17) even as the sun finally disappeared from view “into a tomb of velvet purple” (19). Like the rest of the poem, we encounter here a continued struggle between comfort, security, and routine – the streetlamps turn on the same as always – and discomfort, vulnerability, and chaos – the streets clogging, the sun dying, the sun scrambling. Rethinking sunset with these metaphors, as Mukhopadyay says in “More than a thing to ignore: an interview with TRM” by Ralph James Savarese, “becomes the stepping stone to better cognition.”

[Words: 549]

Written by Robert

December 8th, 2010 at 11:23 am

Lindsay’s Final: Societal Views in With the Light

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Throughout this entire semester, we have focused on the impact a particular disability has upon an individual and how this is played out within our society. We have read numerous theoretical pieces pertaining to this notion as well as seen these aspects from the disability studies theorists shown in the literature.  For me, this was extremely evident in our discussion of Jim Sinclair’s “Don’t Mourn For Us” and Ari Ne’eman’s “Dueling Narratives: Neurotypical and Autistic Perspectives About the Autism Spectrum” in relation to Keiko Tobe’s With the Light series. Examining both theoretical pieces, they conclude that autism is “a way of being” (Sinclair, “Don’t Mourn For Us”), a part of one’s identity. This aspect is an important element of one’s life and it should be accepted rather than eliminated by society.

In Tobe’s With the Light, Sachiko grows in learning to accept that her son is autistic and embodies every step of Jim Sinclair’s beliefs. As a parent of an autistic child, she originally experiences grief due to the fact that Hikaru was not the ordinary kid she was anticipating for. To negate more negativity, Sachiko puts her grief of the idealized child she had once thought she would bring into this world and focuses on the actual child that will encompass her life. This shows when Masato’s mother asks, “…When is Hikaru going to get better?” (Tobe, 37) and Sachiko internally responds, “ If Hikaru got better all of a sudden, I would feel as if it wasn’t really him anymore..Besides, Hikaru is maturing at his own pace” (Tobe, 38). Sachiko then goes on to point out to us as readers the positive growth developments Hikaru has achieved such as not wandering off by himself anymore, riding the escalator, and being able to taper off sudden daily changes. It is clear that she has put aside her preconceived perceptions of what she lacked and replaced them with what she has. She is trying to figure out where Hikaru is at and has relationally placed herself there. Sachiko has disbanded her familiarity by allowing Hikaru to guide her into his world by teaching her his language and thought (Sinclair). This approach shows the acceptance and unconditional love she has for Hikaru, strengthening their mother-son relationship.

In contrast, Masato’s mother embodies the custom that autism is a big scary disease (Ne’eman, “Dueling Narratives: Neurotypical and Autistic Perspectives About the Autism Spectrum”). She empathizes with the nonautistics view that autism is a tragedy, which explains her actions towards her grandson. Masato’s mother shows much frustration in trying to deal with Hikaru while his family attended his sister’s graduation. She shows her agitated emotions as she is trying to find where Hikaru is hiding as well as what he wants to do: “I told you, no more videos!” (Tobe, 410). What she should have done was wait patiently for Hikaru to respond on his own like DJ Savarese outlined in his piece “Communicate With Me.” She pushed for things she felt were the appropriate way of handling the situation, but found much disappointment and resentment when Hikaru responded “NOOOOO!!” (Tobe, 410). Her method only riled him up resulting in an increased heart rate.

There is consistent tension between her and Sachiko in how Hikaru was raised and in turn, puts more effort into her relationship with Hikaru’s nonautistic sister, Kanon: “Kanon-Chaan!…I’ll buy you any backpack you want” (29-30). She is more concerned for how Hikaru’s autism will affect Kanon rather than the impact autism has on Hikaru. I feel Masato’s mother is scared of what society will think once they see she has ties to an autistic individual and because of this, she is incorporated into society’s notions by displaying unsympathetic behavior towards Hikaru and Sachiko’s ways in raising him.

Sachiko and Masato’s mother serve as opposites in the realm of disability: Sachiko accepts the disabled community while Masato’s mother eliminates its presence in our “normal society” (Ne’eman). The isolation they feel in our home is tragic because of the negative mind-sets towards autistic individuals, not because of what they are (Sinclair). They serve as foreigners in our world and that their autistic selves brings a disease into the mix, infiltrating our society. According to the idea of autism advocacy in Ne’eman’s piece, autism is held up to the same association as that of cancer and one day they will recover from this disease and be normal. However, autism is a part of who that child is as Sachiko has learned and Masato’s mother must realize about Hikaru. The recovery is not from autism itself, but rather living their lives full of acceptance as well as learning that it is an important part of Hikaru and other individuals dealing with this disability.

Word Count: 889

Written by lglotzer

December 8th, 2010 at 10:44 am

Sarah S’s final: Neurotypicality in “Curious Incident”

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Because Mark Haddon’s book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, is so strongly linked with autism and disability studies, readers see Christopher, the main character, as having many of the responses or “quirks” generally attributed to autistic individuals. We consider many of his theories and fixations to be characteristic of autism, and write them off as being “symptoms” of a “disability.” In reality, many people considered “normal,” or neurotypical, by society possess many of the same characteristics, interests, and issues that Christopher does, making him relatable as a character because he reflects in his disability many traits we consider to be “normal.” (Though the idea of “neurotypical” or “normal” is rife with problems, using this generalization to highlight the social repercussions of Christopher’s behaviors is effective.)

One example is his interest in math. Christopher is very smart, taking advanced maths and even receiving a high score on his maths A-level, which had to be specially arranged because his school did not have the facilities. If you take out the fact that Christopher is autistic, this is impressive but not unusual. Many “normal” children perform far above their grade level, especially in specific subjects, as in Christopher’s case. Outside of the label of autism, this would be considered neurotypical behavior, but with the label, high brain function of this kind is seen as a trait of autistic individuals and not a personal interest, as it very well may be.

Another example is his fear of loud noises and/or hectic environments. Though he handles himself very well when he takes public transportation, he is very disturbed by all of the hustle and bustle, and several times has to retreat into himself and distract his mind to get through it. Many view this as a characteristic of autism, but many individuals who do not share this diagnosis share Christopher’s uncomfortability. Those who suffer from anxiety, agoraphobia, claustrophobia, or other milder disorders would react the same way in a similar situation, but many even more “normal” people simply dislike crowds or crowded areas, and can feel edgy, nervous, or distracted for a variety of reasons. Again we see that Christopher’s “quirks” exist outside of the label of autism, though other autistic individuals may share this characteristic.

Some of Christopher’s ideas are harder to generalize—his dislike of yellow, or penchant for certain foods, or distrust of strangers, etc.—though even here, he applies such straightforward logic that it is hard to say that any of these are irrational. Many of these, in a different situation, are called “personal preference” or “superstition.” Neurotypical people are not usually required to defend even silliest of opinions, and though some might say his system of colors and numbers of cars determining the mood of the day is ridiculous, most people work the same way. Getting up on the wrong side of the bed makes no sense, but if someone believes in this adage, their entire day can be ruined—and the same goes for black cats and walking under ladders. And so we see that even Christopher’s greatest “quirks” could exist unfettered in the neurotypical world, unchallenged and undiagnosed as the fixations they may be.

Some might say that this kind of discussion is useless because autism is such an integral part of Christopher’s identity as Haddon writes it that taking his disability away destroys who he is. The point is not to ignore Christopher’s autism altogether, but merely to examine the traits which we might see as dependent on the disability, considering the possibility that some characteristics correlate, but are not caused by, disability. Rather than trapping someone into a small mold, this way of looking at things frees a disabled person to own their identity, instead of having to always fall back on their disability as a default identity. Now Christopher can say, “I love maths and hate loud noises, and I’m autistic,” instead of, “I’m autistic (and I love maths and hate loud noises).” his interests and characteristics are not made parenthetical by his diagnosis.

Word count:  691

Written by sarahsmile

December 8th, 2010 at 3:00 am

Haley’s Exam: “Frankenstein” and the Autistic

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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein tells the story of a creature persecuted for his difference from ‘humanity’. The novel highlights the question of what is human. Must a human communicate in a ‘normal’ manner? Does a human have to experience the world in the same way as other humans? Do beings need to conform to normality to be considered human? Over the past several decades our culture has been struggling to understand how the autistic fits into society. Because many autistics do not interact or communicate in the same manner as most people, they have often been thought of and treated as non-human. However as scientific data has grown and autistic narratives have accumulated it has been shown that autistics, too, are fully human and hence capable of experiencing emotion, thought, and senses. In Frankenstein the creature is rejected from society, placed firmly in the category of ‘other’ because of his appearance and lack of ability to communicate. The reader, though, is shown some of the creature’s thoughts allowing them to learn just how human he is, despite his differences. Throughout history autistic individuals have often been treated as outcasts, in a very similar manner to the creature they have been pushed to the edges of society and dismissed as non-human beings, or even mutants.

Autistic narratives offer a view into the life of an autistic, as the creature’s description of his own life contained within the book Frankenstein allows readers to understand his perspective on the novel’s events. Through the creature’s narration the reader is better able to understand what struggles he has faced and what has led him to hate humanity with such a passion. In a similar manner, autistic narratives allow the neurotypical to understand the motivations that underlie some autistic actions, such as why they may dislike physical contact or need to self-stimulate through stemming. Author Ian Hacking says of autistic narratives, “They are creating the language in which to describe the experience of autism,” an experience that is “hitherto unknown” (Savarese and Savarese). In Shelley’s novel, the creature is given a voice that allows him to explain just how human he is, just how much emotion he feels. Unlike Frankenstein’s generally misguided understanding of the creature, he is not purely an evil being who enjoys hurting others, but instead a complex person struggling in a world that does not understand or accept him. Throughout the novel, the creature describes his sorrow and longing for human connection, recognition of his humanity. He says of watching the family that lived in the cottage attached to his hideout, “The more I saw of them, the greater became my desire to claim their protection and kindness; my heart yearned to be known and loved by these amiable creatures” (Shelley 114). Both the creature and autistic persons are able to use their voices, whether spoken or written, to show just how human they are.

The creature and many autistics experience difficulty integrating and handling their sensory perceptions. Individuals with autism often dislike human touch or too much talking (noise), not because they dislike people, but because they struggle to handle all of this sensory information at one time. Describing his sensory experience in the beginning of his life the creature says, “A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses” (Shelley 86). The ability to feel, integrate, and describe sensations experienced in life is an important way that people relate and communicate. Imagine sitting around a dinner table and being unable to communicate the experience of eating what you were having or being overwhelmed by the collection of colors, textures, and tastes on the plate. It would be seen as odd, abnormal, and strange by most; autistics however often struggle to deal with overwhelming stimuli. Jim Sinclair, an autistic individual involved in autism self-advocacy, “emphasizes that simple, basic skills such as recognizing people or things presuppose even simpler, more basic skills such as knowing to attach meaning to visual stimuli” (Bogdashina 39). Many autistic individuals struggle to do just this, and, as it is innate to the neurotypical, the coping methods used by the autistic, such as stemming, avoiding eye contact, or shrieking when overwhelmed, seem bizarre and unnecessary. Autistic individuals often come into the world, like the creature, unable to integrate sensory stimuli leading to isolation and judgment from neurotypical individuals.

Autistics often face hostility and rejection because they do not experience the world in the way that ‘normal’ people do, as did the creature in Frankenstein. The creature feels so isolated by his differences and sickened by the treatment he receives that he says, “[I] sometimes resolved to quit the world and its miseries for ever” (Shelley 125). People with autism often struggle with depression and anxiety, in part because they feel so isolated, judged, and misunderstood. Neurodiversity advocates attempt to address this problem by supporting the idea of viewing all of humanity in a different light; seeing neural functioning as a spectrum for all, not just the disabled or autistic. Ari Ne’eman argues that there are strengths within autism, such as superior memory, pattern processing, and intelligence capabilities that should be acknowledged as co-occurring with the disabling effects of autism (Savarese and Savarese). As stated by Emily and Ralph Saverese in their piece The Superior Half of Speaking, “There are myriad ways to be present, connected, and alive; myriad ways to have relationships.”  Shelley’s representation of the creature incorporates, although unintentionally, issues that many autistic individuals struggle with and that the neurodiversity movement is working to address.

Written by Haley

December 7th, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Stacy’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

In Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, we get to see the world from an autistic perspective through Christopher’s eyes. We are able to experience the confusion of the world and the difficulty of understanding all of the complex human emotions along with him. Christopher fantasizes about being an astronaut, alone in space and about being the only person left in the world. These fantasies contradict some notions regarding how people have a tendency to isolate and distance themselves from the disabled, placing the disabled in a sympathetic light, meanwhile Christopher desires to isolate and distance himself from them; this perspective does not insist that he wants to be alone because he dislikes all people, but it is the idea that he already feels so separate from people, that being alone will just make the world less confusing than it already is.

Christopher believes that he could make a very good astronaut because he is intelligent, good with machines and would like being on his own in a tiny spacecraft away from everything. He emphasizes that he must go alone or have his own part of the spacecraft where no one else can come in. He dreams about no one being near him for thousands and thousands of miles. Christopher does not want to go into space because he despises people, instead, he knows if he is by himself in a spacecraft, he will not always have to face the everyday confusions like reading peoples face expressions, trying to figure out what they mean or have people touch him when he hates being touched or people talking and joking in ways that he does not understand what they are really trying to say. If Christopher is not fantasizing about being totally alone, than he is fantasizing about the only people left in the world are special like him.

One of his favorite dreams are the ones he has about nearly everyone being dead except for the people who don’t look at each other’s faces and who don’t know what different facial expressions mean. He likes this idea because since they are like they him, they also want to be  on their own.  This means they will not try and touch him or talk to him and he will not get confused or angry. At first this dream might read as creepy and wrong to readers because Christopher does talk about breaking into families homes who are dead, taking their clothes, driving their cars and than going home to fathers house which is now Christopher’s home. But, it’s not that imagining people dead that makes him happy, it is simply that he would be in control of what he wants to do and when he wants to do it, without anyone interfering with him.

Christopher’s inability to understand human emotions and difficulty with communicating with people makes him dream about a world where those problems do not exist. He realizes if the only people left were like him, everything would be quieter and he could walk out of his house and go to public places without worrying about what might happen if he does.  He dreams about isolating himself from people in the hopes that the world will make sense to him.

Word Count 572

Written by skeser88

December 7th, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Autistic Poetry: Firing the Canon

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While the content of autistic poetry may differ greatly from neurotypical poetry, this is a result of the differences in experience that will naturally occur from person to person, as would happen between poets from different regions of the world. Much like with gender, sexuality, and race literature, the point is not to separate disability literature from the cannon but rather to shed light on the different perspectives it has to offer. To pigeonhole these poets as simply autistic does them a disservice as artists because, while each of these poems deals with the subject of autism, they are so disparate in terms of their perspectives that they deserve to be considered as individual artists who are part of the literary canon of their own merit.

Autistic poets, like other poets, attempt to connect to readers through their writing. In Rebecca Foust’s poem “Dark Card,” the author tries to reeducate neurotypical readers who may not understand the way her son behaves while acknowledging the aesthetic nervousness that others experience as a result of his autism. Though there is nothing physically disabled about her child, his autistic tendencies such as “knock[ing] down / the apple sauce pyramid” (9-10) and “standing on his desk again” (15) make the neurotypical community aesthetically nervous in the same way that a physical disability might. Those who do not understand equate these behaviors with those of other students who are considered suspect or potentially even dangerous, as mentioned in line 34 with Kaczynski or Columbine. The language Foust uses to describe her son is beautifying: it portrays his actions in a positive manner. For example, on line 38, the mother depicts her son’s body as “his question mark flower stalk spine”; she also describes her son’s removal of the applesauce jar from its pyramid as the creation of an algorithm, rather the destruction of a display. As an advocate for autistic people and as the mother of an autistic child, Foust sees it as her job to alter the perspectives of those who do not understand people who behave similarly to her child.

“A Simple Cup” by Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhya (TRM) is written by an autistic author from the perspective of an autistic speaker. The intention of his poem is to portray his unique experience of becoming preoccupied with the “orange and yellow, / randomly marked” (8-9) cup. This differs greatly from Foust’s intention in “Dark Card”: she attempts to make the reader aware of a social issue and reeducate them, rather than simply documenting the autistic experience. Foust, writing from a neurotypical perspective about autism, is utilizing more traditional line length and stanza integrity, whereas TRM avoids stanza and traditional line, which emphasizes his neurodiversity. This neurodiversity is further demonstrated through his utilization of heavy repetition and assonance, which emphasizes that the cup, as TRM says in the poem, “turned into / my obsession” (27-28). He also conflates the image of the cup with a “smile” (15): TRM makes an arbitrary connection between these two things, which becomes, in the context of the poem, metaphor. At the end of the poem, TRM writes that he is “filling and emptying / that cup of memory…with [his] story” (43-47), which solidifies the idea that the poem is attempting to convey some small part of his unique autistic experience.

Elizabeth Kate Switaj, another autistic poet, avoids stanza integrity and uses nontraditional line as well as visual patterns— such as indention and her use of ampersands instead of the word “and”—to convey her unique patterns in thought. Switaj’s unique aesthetics parallel the subject matter of “Irresistible Investment: The Autism Cure” itself. In this poem, the autistic author depicts an autistic speaker who addresses an autistic audience. In the first stanza, the author highlights the pejorative “chelations of a language” (3) that surrounds autism in order to, perhaps, justly depict treatments of autism. Switaj explains that these “metals kill my kin” (5): the speaker has a unique perspective upon these treatments because, as an autistic person, the speaker understands what it would mean to be cured. A cure is tantamount to elimination and genocide. Switaj also uses the word “we,” which places the narrator inside the autistic community, addressing his/her peers.

These three poets all address their audiences in different ways. Foust is trying to address a neurotypical audience and reeducate them in regards to their perceptions of autism. TRM uses his personal experience to impart to his reader a greater understanding of the mindset of an autistic person. Finally, Switaj’s autistic narrator uses the unique perspective of an autistic person to assert his/her understanding of how fatal a cure for autism would be to the autistic community. While these three works may have a basis in the same subject matter, they are by no means focused on the same elements of the autism spectrum, nor do they approach them from the same perspective. These works hold up as poetry in their own right even without the existence of an autistic canon, and should be considered as such.

By: Mairin Martin, Matt Blakley, Helen Alston, and Andrew Allingham

Written by Mairin Martin

December 7th, 2010 at 12:54 am